Sideways Gateways

Sideways Gateways

The Arafellin fingered his cudgel (no, not like that. Honestly, can't you ever think of something else for once? I mean it would be grossly improper for the middle of an inn- Now look what you've done! You've got me all corrupted with your wicked ways. Well, you can take your sick mind elsewhere, thankyouverymuch. Now, where was I?) and looked nervously at the four drunks at the corner table.

They were big men, up from Arad Doman, and doubtless glad to have escaped their women for a night. Or at least, their drinking said so. The pile of empty glasses on their table was almost two feet high, since the serving girls were all too scared to go and collect them. The last one who tried was still in the kitchen trying to get the glass out of her arm.

They were getting rowdy, too. The friendly punches that they all doled out had begun to turn into more pointed thumps, and their already-raised voices were shouting now.

The Arafellin bouncer sighed. He was going to have to go and throw them out soon. They'd be out of money.

It was then that their table surprised everybody by turning into a slash of silver light. This was not something that tables usually did, and the Arafellin would have suspected the four drunks, had the table not been kind enough to bisect them all at the stomach. Their various body parts fell onto the floor with a crunch of smashed glasses and a chorus of wet thuds.

Then something black and vaguely man-shaped flew out of the top of the table-slash with a strange kind of whooping cry. The kind of cry you hear when you put a twelve-year-old on a rollercoaster. Terrified, but also ecstatic. You know the one.

Anyway, the man-shape flew upwards, and then, as everyone was half-suspecting (only half, since when tables suddenly start turning into razor-sharp slashes of light and chopping people in half, then you have to suspend a certain amount of belief in order to retain some shreds of sanity) he came down again. Back through the table-slash.

About four seconds later, he came through again, but much faster and diagonally.

"Whhhaaaaaaahhhh-OOOMPH!!" was the sound that the Arafellin bouncer heard. It could have been words, to be honest, but he was too bust trying not to think about things too hard.

The man-shape picked himself up off the floor, revealing himself to actually be a man. In a black coat. With silver pins on the collar. "Wow," he said in an amazed voice. "Sideways gateways are brilliant! Beats the hell out of upside-down ones."

The Arafellin groaned inwardly. Asha' bloody man. Stuff always seemed to explode when they were around.

The Asha'man knelt before the thin innkeeper (what? Shut up. I don't care if Mr Jordan never has thin innkeepers, they have to exist. The law of probability says so. Anyway, it's my story and I can do what the hell I like. Including background liposuction, so yah boo sucks to you). "My Lord," said the Asha'man. "I come seeking the answer to a great conundrum. Will you bestow your great wisdom upon me so that I can find out what I was thinking about?"

"Uhh… I'm not a- that is, I'm just an innkeeper," stammered the innkeeper. He was a little off-balance, which was understandable, considering the manner of the Asha'man's entry.

"Just an innkeeper?" said the Asha'man. "Hm. Must have missed a bit, then. Oh, hey, does that mean you do beer? Can I have one? Or maybe whisky. No, wine. Wait, beer. Or did I already say that? Hhhmmm, wait a minute. I've got to figure something out."

The Arafellin bouncer (I think he can be called… Dave. What do you mean, that doesn't sound very Arafellin? Fine, Dhayve. It was only because I couldn't be arsed to keep typing out 'the Arafellin bouncer', anyway. Oh, wait, I'm getting distracted from the story…)

Anyway, Dhayve took a tentative step forward. "Uhm, excuse me Mr Asha'man," he said. "If you're going to go insane, I'm going to have to ask you to do it off the premises. Otherwise, you'll be liable for damages."

The Asha'man looked at him. "What? Oh, the insane thing. Yeah, I get that a lot. Don't worry about it, I did that ages ago. Haddock?"

Dhayve looked dumbfounded, until the Asha'man produced a long, black haddock from under his coat. "Uh, no thanks?" he said.

"Fair enough. It's good haddock, though. Thakan'dar forged, and everything. You know, I never would have guessed at the things you can do with saidin. This one time, I had a Seanchan monster-thingy – what are they, the dragon-type ones? You know, big flying lizards – Raken! That's the one!"

"Uh, what was that bit about the insanity?" asked Dhayve, now completely and utterly confused.

"Anyway, I had one of them, and I replaced it's head with – get this – a chicken! Seriously! Didn't live very long, though… still, I can see what drew Aginor. It's fun playing join-the-dots with animals." His voice took on a childlike, singsong quality. "The leg bone's connected to the; hip bone. The hip bone's connected to the; face bone. The face bone's connected to the; squirrelly-animal-that-I-just-found-on-the-ground bone." He laughed. "Brilliant, I tell you."

By now, people were pressed up against the wall of the inn, trying to get as far away from the Asha'man as possible. Dhayve wished he had followed them. Now he was stuck here talking to this mental. This mental with enough power to exploderise half the town, he reminded himself.

"That said," The Asha'man blathered on, "I wouldn't recommend it in front of the Dragon Reborn, though. Oh no, he tends to frown on that sort of stuff. Which is pretty strange, I think, considering those rumours going about that he made some kind of zombie girl in the Stone of Tear. Oh, wow, how great would that be? An army of zombie children! 'You will do as I say, or I will unleash my ravening hordes of children upon you! What's that? Not scared? Did I mention that they're zombie children? Hahahaah! Fear me, mortals, for I am your ruler!' –Wait, did anyone hear that last bit?" He stabbed an accusing finger at Dhayve. "You weren't supposed to know about my secret megalomaniacal plotting! No one was supposed to know! Oh, now what am I going to do?"

Dhayve held out his arms to calm the madman. "It's okay," he said. "No one heard you. Not even me. Honest. Why don't you just tell me what you came here for?"

"No one heard?" said the Asha'man. "Honest? You promise?"

"Yeah yeah, I promise. Now, why are you here?" said Dhayve, momentarily forgetting the fact that this madman was also an Asha'man (you just can't get the minor characters these days…).

"Why am I here?" said the Asha'man. "Actually, that's a good question. Why am I here? Why are you here? Why are any of us here? Are we here for a purpose, or is life just a giant game of chance?" He broke into a fit of giggles. "Hehe, I'm philosophising! And they said madmen couldn't do advanced degrees."

"Yes," said Dhayve persisterntly, "but why are you specifically in this inn?"

"Oh, I don't know," giggled the Asha'man. "Gateways aren't the most accurate things when you only know the vague area of where you want to go – opening one to 'Arafel' in general means it could end up all over the place." He laughed. "Stupid Dragon reborn and Taim; saying that you have to know where you're setting off from and where you're going to. Actually, I wonder if I could open a gateway inside someone…" He paused, then looked at the innkeeper. "Oh, hey, can you just help me out here?"

"What-" started the innkeeper.

A silver flash of light slashed down the centre of him. He had time for a surprisingly disgruntled look, before it opened into a doorway and he fell to pieces.

"Oh hey, you can open gateways inside people!" said the Asha'man. He glanced behind him. "Hey, my other gateway's still open! I didn't know you could do that. Hmmm…" He picked up a bottle, weighed it in his hand, and then threw it as hard as he could at the gateway in front of him (the one that used to be the innkeeper).

It shot up from the gateway behind him and shattered on the roof. The rain of glass and beer splashed down back through the gateway and sprayed out from the gateway in front of the Asha'man. Right in his face.

"Oh," said the Asha'man, wiping beer from his face. "I didn't think of that."

No one quite knew what to say at that point.

The Asha'man chuckled. The chuckle grew into a snicker, which grew into a guffaw. Which grew into a gale of deeply insane laughter. He contorted and everything – you know, head back, eyes closed, hair blowing about dramatically (don't ask me where the wind came from – he's an Asha'man, remember? And a mental one, at that), all the signs of a proper insane laugh.

If everyone had started to sidle away at the haddock and the animal join-the-dots, they were positively trying to crawl through the walls by now. Nobody likes to be stuck in a room with a madman laughing hysterically at something. Especially a madman that could blow up said room by accident.

Dhayve finally plucked up the courage to say something after a full five minutes had passed and the Asha'man still showed no sign of stopping. "Uhhhmmm…" he offered tentatively. "Uhhhh, what… are you… laughing about?"

The Asha'man stopped laughing so quickly that it looked as if he had just been frozen. I mean, honestly; he just went from laughing insanely to deadly serious in the space of about a millisecond. "What?" he said. "Oh, yeah, the laughing. I just thought I'd have a good laugh. I never seem to do enough maniacal laughter." He leaned in with a conspiratorial wink. "Good for your heart, you know."

"Really," said Dhayve faintly.

"Yup. Anywho, where exactly am I?" asked the Asha'man. He looked abashed. "And, uh, by the way, does anyone know what I'm doing here?"

"Uhhhmmm… no?" said Dhayve.

"Oh. Damn." The Asha'man closed his gateways with a distracted wave. "Ah well. I'm sure someone somewhere will know. Maybe somewhere in… Cairhien! Anybody know about Cairhien? No?"

Everyone shook their heads.

"Oh well. I guess I'll just have to go there and find out… wait, what am I finding out?" He scratched his head, and then shrugged. "Meh, just another thing I'll have to find out in Cairhien."

With that puzzling statement, he opened another gateway, sideways, about three inches off the floor. And jumped through it with a whooping cry.